Planning ahead and making arrangements

Planning is key

ASL version of this chapter
 

As a traveller with a disability, you should not face barriers when you travel.

It is always a good idea to plan your trip ahead of time and know how to get help if you need it along the way. By planning early, you can get more information about your options and ensure that the carrier has enough time to provide the services you need.

Your preparations will make your travel easier and more enjoyable. Here are three useful steps:

  • Determine your disability-related needs;
  • Identify which carriers can best meet your needs; and
  • Get written confirmation about your accessibility arrangements when you book your travel.

Finding information

ASL version of this chapter
 

It’s always a good idea to gather information about your trip well before you go. Use your travel agent or the carrier as resources. Carrier websites and customer service staff can answer questions about the accessibility services that are available and what might meet your needs. If you need information in an alternative format, let your carrier know which format you require. For example, if the information is only available in paper format, let them know whether you would like a version in large print, Braille or in an electronic format. Larger service providers are also required to ensure that if information is made available in an electronic format, the format is compatible with adaptive technology that is intended to assist persons with disabilities and, if information is made available in an audio format, it is made available in a visual format upon request by a person with a disability (and vice versa). For more information, see the CTA's Communication with Persons with Disabilities: A Guide.

It often pays to shop around. Canada's transportation system is complex, with a wide range of transportation service providers varying in size and resources. This means that services vary and some may not be available everywhere. While all carriers are required to meet the needs of travellers with disabilities to the greatest extent possible, some may be better equipped than others to meet your specific needs. Ask questions. Compare answers. You'll get more control over your journey.

Travelling outside Canada

ASL version of this chapter
 

Our tips can also help you if you travel outside the country. Remember, though, that Canadian standards and rules generally don't apply in other countries (although the CTA has sometimes extended some Canadian standards and rules to Canadian carriers when they operate outside Canada). In some places, travel is very accessible, but in many other places, it is not.

A reminder: While a passport is an essential document for international travel, you may also need additional documents such as a visa, health certificate and/or proof of vaccination. If you are bringing any medication, ask about how it will be handled at security checkpoints. It is always a good idea to carry your medication in your carry-on luggage so it is within reach during travel or in the event of a flight delay or if your baggage is delayed or lost.

If you use a service dog, it is always advisable to ask ahead about what the rules and restrictions related to travel with a service dog are, including any quarantine or permit requirements that might apply in your destination country. It is also advisable to ask whether an international health certificate and/or proof of vaccination for your dog are required and to keep the required documentation for your service dog with you at all times while visiting foreign countries.

If you are planning on taking an international flight and bringing a mobility aid, your airline is required to offer you the opportunity to make a special declaration of interest for your aid. This declaration allows you to reflect the monetary value and a description of your mobility aid in case it is damaged, destroyed, lost or not returned to you within the usual time frame at your destination. A special declaration of interest is important because, without it, international instruments cap the carriers' limits of liability to a level far less than the value of most mobility aids. The impact of this is that, if an aid is lost, damaged or destroyed during a trip and the traveller has not completed a special declaration of interest, they may only be entitled to reimbursement for a portion of the value of the aid. You can find out more about this on your airline's website.

Note: Some products sold over the counter in Canadian pharmacies require prescriptions in other countries, including the United States. You may not be able to bring your medication into another country without a prescription.

Ask before you go what you can and cannot take with you. For example, there may be restrictions on the types of oxygen devices that are permitted and on the number and types of batteries for mobility aids. There may also be restrictions on the types of emotional support animals that you can travel with and conditions on how they are transported. Look for information from your travel agency, carrier, government of the country you will be visiting, travel publications, and websites.

Take charge through your plan

ASL version of this chapter
 

From the information you have gathered, it’s time to build your travel plan and book it, either through your travel agent or directly with the carrier, either by phone or online.

When you make your reservation directly with the carrier, mention your disability and explain your accessibility needs. Ask your carrier about the services and equipment they provide that will meet your needs. You can also check their website for information.

If your reservation is made through a travel agent or other third party, such as an online company that allows you to research and book travel, it is always a good idea to contact your carrier directly to confirm that your accessibility needs have been correctly communicated and that the carrier is aware of the services you require to meet your needs.

Advance notice and information and documents to support a service request

ASL version of this chapter
 

If you need any accessibility services from your carrier, it is recommended that you give them as much notice as possible. While in some cases, no advance notice is required, carriers are required to arrange most services for you when you give them at least 48 hours’ notice. With less than 48 hours’ notice, they must make every reasonable effort to do so. If a carrier requires you to provide information or documents (for example, a medical certificate) to assess your service requests, up to 96 hours advance notice may be required.

Note: If you provide advance notice but the notice period includes weekend or holiday days, your carrier may not be able to complete its assessment of your service request and, for that reason, may not be required to provide the service. It’s therefore important that you make every effort to ensure that the advance notice includes at least two full business days.

Usually you do not have to provide information or documentation to support your service request. However, in some cases, such as when a traveller uses a mobility aid or an assistive device (for example, a portable oxygen concentrator), carriers may require information (for example, the weight and dimensions of the mobility aid) or documents (for example, a medical certificate regarding the need for medical oxygen during travel). Carriers may also want a traveller's health professional to talk to its medical staff to clarify the traveller's service needs and ensure they are in a position to meet them. Be clear on exactly what your service needs are and ask about the services you can get.

Note: If your carrier requests information or documents to support your service request, the carrier must offer to retain an electronic copy for at least three years. This will avoid you having to provide the same information or documents each time you travel with the carrier.

For more information on advance notice and supporting information and documentation, see the CTA's Advance Notice/Supporting Documentation Requesting Services for Persons with Disabilities: A Guide.

Making arrangements to receive help

ASL version of this chapter
 

You can arrange to receive help throughout your journey, including:

  • moving to/from a pick-up/drop-off area (curbside zone) of a terminal located in Canada;
  • checking in;
  • moving through the terminal, including through the security screening checkpoint;
  • boarding, connecting, and disembarking;
  • storing and retrieving baggage;
  • moving to/from an on-board washroom;
  • moving through the terminal's border clearance area; and
  • obtaining accessible ground transportation from your destination terminal in Canada.

You should note that carriers are not required to provide assistance — or are only required to provide limited assistance — with:

  • eating, taking medication, using the washroom;
  • transferring to/from a passenger seat after departure and before arrival;
  • orientation or communication; or
  • physical assistance in the event of an emergency, including in the case of an evacuation or decompression.

Travelling with a support person

If you need this help, ask your carrier about travelling with a support person. The assistance provided by a support person is in addition to the assistance that the carrier is already required to provide to passengers with disabilities, which includes, for example, assisting the passenger with meals served by the carrier by opening packages, identifying food items and their location and cutting large food portions; assistance with boarding/disembarking, storing and retrieving carry-on baggage, and describing the layout of an aircraft, train, ferry or bus and the location of onboard amenities; or transferring the passenger between a mobility aid and their passenger seat before departure and after arrival.

A Canadian carrier must provide the adjacent seating for a necessary support person without charging you an additional fare or any other charges if you are travelling within Canada, except if that travel is part of an itinerary which includes travel outside Canada (for example, domestic legs of international flights).

Note: Your carrier is required to provide you with written confirmation about the accessibility services you will receive. This will help you to verify arrangements before you leave and again along the way.

Getting to and from the terminal

You will also have to plan how you will get from home to the terminal and from the terminal to your final destination. In larger communities, there is a variety of accessible transportation available, from taxis and buses to rental cars. Smaller communities may have fewer choices. You may need to reserve ahead of time to make sure your ride is available to get you from point A to point B. Canadian terminal operators that have arrangements with ground transportation companies, must ensure that transportation from their terminals is accessible (see Arrival).

Seats and cabins

ASL version of this chapter
 

Let your carrier know what your needs are for your seat or cabin. Based on the class of service that you have requested, your carrier must let you know what seats or cabins are available and have the equipment and facilities that would best meet your accessibility needs. Provide feedback to your carrier as it must consider your opinion before assigning you a seat or cabin.

Carriers cannot charge seat selection fees for accessible seating.

Note: If you wish to reserve specific accessible seating, you should make your request with your carrier well in advance of travel. Providing a carrier with adequate advance notice about the need for such seating will allow it to ensure that the seating is provided and, if necessary, make changes to seats that have already been assigned. In addition, if the seat that you wish to reserve is in an emergency exit row, there are regulatory requirements related to safety that must be met and the carrier may have to assess your capacity and capabilities to meet those requirements before permitting you to sit in such a seat.

A Canadian carrier must provide that additional seating at no additional charge for travel between points in Canada if you require additional adjacent seating to accommodate your disability, for example:

  • for a support person to provide you with assistance during travel that your carrier does not provide;
  • for your service dog because the floor space at your seat is insufficient; or
  • if the nature of your disability is such that the limitation to a single seat would be a barrier to travel; for example, if you have a fused leg or a leg brace, or you are functionally disabled by obesity.

For international travel — including any portion of the itinerary that is for travel between points in Canada — carriers are required to provide additional adjacent seating but are permitted to charge the fare.

Documents and policies

You should be aware that your carrier may ask you to provide information or documents, including a medical certificate, to support your request for additional seating. Some carriers have a policy on who can be a support person so it's a good idea to ask about this ahead of time (for example, is there a minimum age or does the support person need to be physically capable of lifting the traveller with a disability or helping them to evacuate). If your support person does not meet the carrier's age requirement, but you believe that they are physically and otherwise capable of fulfilling all of the duties, you may wish to ask the carrier to make an individual assessment of your intended support person's capacity and capabilities.

Allergy buffer zones

ASL version of this chapter
 

If you have a severe allergy, let your carrier know well in advance of your travel but, at a minimum, 48 hours before your departure.

You can ask your carrier to establish a buffer zone around your seat. This means that:

  • you will be seated in a bank of seats where the allergen is not located and that does not face a bank of seats where the allergen is located; and
  • other passengers sitting in your bank of seats will be notified that there is a passenger with a severe allergy (without identifying you). They will also be told what you are allergic to so that they don't consume or use products that could trigger your allergy.

You can also ask to pre-board and clean your seat to remove potential allergens. You should be aware that:

  • there may be restrictions imposed by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority on the types of cleaning supplies that can be brought onboard in carry-on baggage; or
  • your carrier may have a policy of providing the cleaning supplies themselves.

It is important that you bring any allergy medications that you might use, such as epinephrine auto-injectors and other prescription and non-prescription medications, in your carry-on luggage and make sure that you can quickly access them.

You may also want to bring your own food onboard if you have a food allergy.

Note: You may be asked to provide supporting information or documents, including a medical certificate.

For more information on travelling with a severe allergy, see the CTA's Severe Allergies: A Guide.

Mobility aids and assistive devices

ASL version of this chapter
 

Transporting your mobility aid

Your carrier is required to transport your mobility aid except in the following circumstances:

  • if the weight of your mobility aid exceeds the capacity of the device used for boarding mobility aids. This could also happen if you need to remain in your mobility aid during boarding, for example when boarding a train or bus.
  • if your mobility aid does not fit on the transportation equipment (for example, in the baggage compartment). If that happens, the carrier must tell you about alternative trips to your destination which can accommodate your mobility aid and offer to book this at the lesser of the fare for your original trip and the fare for the alternative trip. You can find information on the maximum weight and dimensions of mobility aids that a carrier can transport on its website.
  • if you are travelling by air and transporting your mobility aid would jeopardize the safe operation of the airplane.

You should be aware that your carrier may ask you to provide written instructions for the disassembly/reassembly of your mobility aid if this is needed in order to store your aid during travel.

When you plan your trip, ask the following questions:

  • Do I have to store my mobility aid during travel and, if so, when do I have to transfer out of my aid (at check-in or at the boarding gate/platform)?
  • Can mobility aids be stored on board, or must they be carried in cargo/baggage compartments? Be prepared to provide the weight and measurements of your mobility aid.
  • Is there an on-board wheelchair?
  • Can the on-board wheelchair get in and out of the washroom?
  • Which seats will be the most accessible for me (for example: seats with moveable armrests that facilitate transferring to/from an on-board wheelchair)?

Note: Ask your carrier whether you can remain in your mobility aid during travel. Ferries are generally large enough for this purpose, while new or modified trains and buses (with some exceptions) are required to have spaces for this purpose. If this is not possible, you may want to ask where your mobility aid will be stored during travel. A train, and each deck of a ferry, must be able to store at least 1 mobility aid. Where possible, an airplane or bus must permit the storage of a walker or manual folding wheelchair in the cabin.

Common assistive devices include a cane, crutches, a communication device (for example, a speech-generating device which translates typed messages into digitized speech), an orthotic positioning device (used to support and position a person who has postural problems), and a portable oxygen concentrator. If you need to use an assistive device while on board, your carrier is required to allow you to do this provided it is safe to do so. You should provide your reservation agent with information about your device, including whether it uses batteries or needs an onboard power supply. You may be asked to provide information or documents, including a medical certificate, regarding your use of the assistive device.

Note: Airlines have rules about the onboard use of oxygen. You can find information on their policies, including whether they provide an oxygen service or require the use of a portable oxygen concentrator instead, by contacting the carrier.

For more information on travelling with a mobility aid or assistive device, see the CTA's Travelling with mobility aids and other assistive devices: A Guide.

Arranging ground transportation

ASL version of this chapter
 

If you need ground transportation to/from the terminal, you might want to arrange this in advance. See the section on ground transportation in Arrival.

Service dogs

ASL version of this chapter
 

Confirmation of training

Your carrier will usually require confirmation that your service dog has been trained for its role. It may do this when you make your reservation by asking you to provide a declaration attesting that your dog has been individually trained by an organization or person specializing in service dog training to perform a task to assist you with a need related to your disability. Your carrier may also require you to provide, before departure, an identification card or other document that is issued by such an organization or person and that identifies you and provides this same attestation.

Note: If you are unable to provide a copy of an identification card or other document in support of your service dog's training when you contact your carrier to make a reservation – for example, because you do not have access to a computer to send an electronic copy – you can ask your carrier whether you can make a verbal declaration and follow up with a copy of the required document.

Space for your service dog

Your carrier must ensure that there is enough floor space for your service dog to remain at your feet in a manner that ensures the well-being and safety of both you and your dog. You should provide your carrier with relevant information on your physical characteristics — such as long legs or the inability to bend a knee — and the size and other characteristics of your dog – such as its ability to maintain a curled position. In some cases, obstructions in the floor space will necessitate the use of floor space at an adjacent seat to ensure that you and your service dog can share the space safely and in reasonable comfort. If this is not possible because your dog is too large, your carrier must provide adjacent seating to provide sufficient floor space. The only exception is if you are travelling on a ferry that does not offer assigned seating.

A Canadian carrier must provide the adjacent seating without charging you an additional fare or any other charges if you are travelling within Canada.

For more information on travelling with a service dog, see the CTA's Service Dogs: A Guide and Space for Service Dogs onboard transportation equipment: A Guide.

Resources

Report a problem on this page

* Please select all that apply: (required)

Date modified: